NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) — Oh, to be a kid again. To play tennis on an out-of-the-way court without a lot of people watching — on a court surrounded by trees and wind screens and a bit of shade, where the biggest distractions might be a baby crying or a guy trying to climb a fence.
For a couple of precious hours Thursday, Andy Roddick went back there again — to Court 13 at Flushing Meadows, where he played the U.S. Open as a junior, back when, for him, it wasn’t yet about money or fame or TV schedules or putting people in the seats.
He came out a winner over fifth-seeded David Ferrer, then walked back into the chaos he had left: U.S. Open 2011, where two days of rain has led players to complain aloud about how business trumps tennis at Grand Slam tournaments and question organizers for sacrificing their well-being in the quest for the almighty dollar.
“I think it’s probably now a good time to sit down and discuss how we would like the tour to be run and who we would like to run tennis,” said Andy Murray, speaking to dual issues — the scheduling problems that have engulfed this tournament and the lack of a players union to give them a more powerful voice.
The sun came back out Thursday, a day that included victories by all the top names — Murray, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Serena Williams among them — but will be remembered best for the way the Roddick-Ferrer match began.
Or resumed, that is.
The day after players were called onto a slick court to play for 15 minutes, officials put Roddick and Ferrer back out in Louis Armstrong Stadium for what figured to be a day of getting things back in order and on schedule.
Instead, after playing about 10 minutes, Roddick noticed water seeping through a crack behind the baseline. Roddick and Ferrer were sent back to the locker room while technicians came out and worked on fixing the crack.
It didn’t work, and after more than an hour, Roddick said to tournament referee Brian Earley, “Put us on 13. Thirteen’s open. Let’s go play. I don’t care where we play.”
And once the decision was made, hundreds of fans began running over to that outside court, hustling up the stairs and clambering into the metal bleachers, trying to get one of the 584 precious seats available to see Roddick, the 2003 champion and America’s best-known active player, go against the fifth-best player in the world.
“You know, I didn’t think Court 13 was in my future,” Roddick said afterward, “but I probably could have promised you if it ever came to that, I was just going to call it quits. But extenuating circumstances, I guess.”
Roddick won 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, then celebrated by high-fiving fans in the front few rows in the intimate setting.
He made his first Grand Slam quarterfinal since the 2010 Australian Open, but must turn around and play Nadal on less than 24 hours’ rest in the quarterfinals on Friday. Murray, who ended the run of 22-year-old American Donald Young in straight sets, will face No. 28 John Isner, who won his match against No. 12 Gilles Simon.
Nadal was the most outspoken when a light mist greeted the players Wednesday morning and they were nonetheless put out on the court, even though it was clear the playing surface was getting damp. Nadal walked into Earley’s office that day, joined by Roddick and Murray, all of whom agreed that things shouldn’t have gone that way.
U.S. Tennis Association organizers hadn’t ruled out the possibility that, in order to conclude the tournament on Sunday, someone on Nadal’s side of the draw might have to play four best-of-5 matches in four days. But late Thursday afternoon, they moved off that stance. The final was rescheduled for Monday, giving all the men at least one day of rest and marking the fourth straight year the weather has pushed the year’s final major past its scheduled conclusion.
“It’s the fourth final in a row we’re playing on a Monday,” Federer said after his straight-sets win over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. “I don’t think the Super Saturday, the Saturday-Sunday thing is working anymore.”
That’s the USTA’s long-held tradition of playing the men’s semifinals and women’s final on Saturday, then following with a men’s final Sunday — a grueling schedule that leaves no cushion in case of rain or other delays.
Among the questions on Federer’s mind: Might the USTA someday spring for a roof, the likes of which they have at the Australian Open and Wimbledon and are planning for at Roland Garros? And is it time the players form a union?
“Maybe it’s a good catalyst for what’s to come,” said Federer, who is president of the ATP Player Council. “It’s all up to the Grand Slams, how they are willing to make changes and move it around in the future. Because the way it is right now, it’s not a perfect scenario.”
At least the USTA got every match it rescheduled for Thursday in the books. That included 28th-seeded Williams’ 7-5, 6-1 win over 17th-seeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, which set up a Saturday-night semifinal against No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki, who beat No. 10 Andrea Petkovic 6-1, 7-6 (5).
In a men’s quarterfinal, Djokovic defeated a fellow Serb, 20th-seeded Janko Tipsarevic, when Tipsarevic retired with a leg injury trailing 7-6 (2), 6-7 (3), 6-0, 3-0.
In the semifinals, Djokovic will face Federer, who accounted for one of the top-ranked player’s two losses this year — in the French Open semifinals.
Federer’s 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 win over Tsonga was the only match interrupted by actual rain on Thursday — a 90-minute delay in the night’s only match that was an unpleasant reminder of the way the last three days had gone.
But Federer came out after the break and finished off the man who beat him at Wimbledon. Total match time: 1 hour, 53 minutes. A no-fuss win, vintage Federer and a reminder of why, exactly, so many people spend all that money and deal with all these problems for this sport.
“At the end of the day, it’s just sports,” Federer said. “A bit of politics once in a while like we’re having now. But it’s not what we like to do.”
What can the US Open do to prevent this kind of drama in the future? Sound off in the comments below…
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